Today is a sad day for gaming. Microsoft has officially announced the cancellation of Scalebound, a triple-A action RPG directed by PlatinumGames’ Hideki Kamiya as a collaboration between the prolific Kyoto-based developer and Microsoft Game Studios.
Yet, I don’t need to look too hard to see quite a few people gloating, mocking and generally being quite upbeat about the news, because Scalebound was an Microsoft-published game, exclusive to Xbox One and Windows 10, and as such many of those who take that accursed thing called “console war” too seriously see its cancellation as a victory, as it’s perceived as a hit to the “enemy.”
I find difficult to even imagine relating with those people: the cancellation of Scalebound, like the premature demise of any game, is a tragic occurrence, and it’s a loss for all of us, no matter what platforms we play on.
First of all, over three years of hard work by several tens of developers are getting wiped off the table. At the moment we don’t know whether the cancellation of the game will cost anyone their job or not, and we can only hope that it won’t. Yet, regardless of that, those who have seen the death of a project in which they have poured years of their life, know very well that this is no laughing matter. I have been through it, and I’m sure many of you can relate as well.
We also don’t yet know what kind of consequences the cancellation of a large project like this, with a first party partner like Microsoft, might have on PlatinumGames, and again we can only hope that the studio will manage to come out relatively unscathed from the ordeal.
It’s certainly unlikely that there won’t be any consequence at all, and PlatinumGames is a developer that has brought and will bring great experiences to gamers on all platforms in the ten years since its founding. Their ability to continue to give us all great games should be a concern for all gamers, regardless of platform affiliation.
Looking deeper into the issue, the cancellation of Scalebound also means that Microsoft isn’t officially involved anymore with any AAA project within the Japanese gaming industry (unless they have something unannounced up their sleeve, of course). The removal of a source of investment from a prominent western first party from the Japanese chessboard is certainly not positive for the local industry as a whole.
Ultimately, every dollar pumped by large publishers like Microsoft into the Japanese gaming industry, helps keeping developers interested in developing for consoles and PC instead of choosing the “easy way out” of mobile development.
Some on opposite fields will certainly think “good, it’s one less game for Xbox!” but those forget that a large amount of the dollars (or yen) earned through a game released on Xbox, would have been reinvested by PlatinumGames into further games. While Scalebound might have not been on the console you care for, the next game made with Scalebound‘s money could have been. That money is now gone.
Xbox is also losing one of its most relevant upcoming Japanese games, which results into a sizable reduction of cultural diversity on one of the three major console platforms. Having a wide range of games born from as many and as diverse development cultures as possible is an important value in gaming, and any loss resulting into the flattening of the games line-up of any platform towards the usual western AAA blockbusters is negative and damaging across the board.
The less triple-A Japanese games are released, regardless of platform, the more the whole gaming industry loses in diversity and variety, which is something we should all consider a valuable asset to protect and cherish.
When Scalebound was first announced, and even more so when we first saw gameplay, it was a joyous moment for me as a gamer. Dragons are extremely fascinating mythical creatures that have been very rarely done well, especially as allies, instead of soulless enemies serving simply as targets for our swords and spells.
Scalebound represented a refreshing and interesting concept not only in its gameplay, but also in its story: i was extremely excited to see how the relationship between Drew and Thuban would evolve, and to experience a virtual friendship with a mighty dragon at the level promised by PlatinumGames’ title.
It was an extremely ambitious title that dared to do something different, to place characters and monsters in unusual roles, to push the boundaries of artificial intelligence and combat. Every time an ambitious project dies, make no mistake, the whole industry receives the signal that ambition and experimenting with something different are risky businesses. Of course no single cancellation will have a massive or even immediately visible effect, but they do add up.
Hideki Kamiya mentioned several times that creating Scalebound was the embodiment of his personal dream, and as a massive fans of dragons, RPGs and good stories, the perspective of being able to play it was a dream for me as well. I saw Scalebound played live by PlatinumGames’ staffers in several occasions, and not having been able to play one of those demos myself at least once, will remain one of my biggest regrets as a gamer.
That controller was mere inches for my hands multiple times, and at the behind-closed-doors presentations I witnessed, Kamiya-san might wondered who the hell was that gaijin who was looking at the screen like he wanted to lick it. So near, and yet so far.
Ultimately, no matter if you play on Xbox One, PC, PS4, Wii U, or whatever platform strikes your fancy, Scalebound is a net loss for all of us. All we can do is to hope that the impact on PlatinumGames and on its developers won’t excessively severe, and remember and honor the game and all the hard work went into it, by watching the gameplay and trailers that Microsoft showcased so far.
You will be missed, big guy.